North America’s largest repertory theatre company, the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario, Canada, selected Hariri Pontarini Architects from 92 submissions in an international competition to design the new Tom Patterson Theatre. The finely crafted building has a striking presence along the banks of the Avon River and is located on the site of a previous Tom Patterson Theatre, which was a converted curling rink. Where the previous venue turned its back on its parkland setting, the new one embraces it with bold transparency. The new building aspires to be a cultural beacon that deﬁnes the next 50 years of this major Canadian cultural institution. The design led by HPA co-founder Siamak Hariri, sought not only to provide what the previous venue lacked but to also pay homage to its memory, as it was beloved for its intimacy despite inadequacies, including poor accessibility, lack of lobby and back-of-house facilities. The new theatre wraps itself in amenity-rich spaces, establishing an immersive, social experience that revolves around and complements the magic of the performing arts, of community coming together. Across the front of the building, a shimmering façade ebbs and flows in step with the river. This organic and curvilinear form inspired by riverbank plant life, creates quiet folds and eddies of encounter across a sequence of spacious public rooms that course from one to the next. Panoramic garden and river views enter deep within the building and dissolve the line between indoors and out. At the heart of the theatre, the horseshoe-shaped auditorium is enwrapped in curving walls of light-coloured brick. Inside the wood-lined room, 600 custom-designed seats surround an elongated thrust stage on three sides, inspired by the dimensions of the previous stage. This unique performance space provides actors with runway-like access into the audience chamber. With only eight rows of seating where no spectator is more than 8.5 metres from the action, the auditorium creates a far more intimate connection between performer and audience than in traditional proscenium theatres. The acoustic challenge presented by actors at times facing away from parts of the audience meant the ambient noise level had to be as silent as possible. The auditorium has elements of a separate structure and layering to create a floating shell around the space. HVAC and other building systems are calibrated for silence. Surface materials are optimized to reduce reverberation, and wood reflectors angled beneath the catwalks create a shorter path for reflected sound to reach the audience. Education programs now have a permanent home in this theatre. A 250-seat forum adds versatility: it can extend the lobby, or be acoustically enclosed for concurrent performances and other events. The members’ lounge features a contemporary fireplace in a dramatic space with wraparound glazing that tapers into a garden setting. The building has a complement of back-of-house amenities, which, like the public spaces and auditorium, are fully accessible. Throughout the gathering areas, the breadth of the design creates multiple vantage points to heighten the relationship between the interior, the gardens and river. This connection to nature is reinforced by the selection of natural materials – of metal, stone, wood and glass as the architectural language. The ceilings are hickory slats above pale oak floors. Ontario limestone cut both on rough and polished axes are displayed in detailing. The decision to elevate the building two metres above a passing road allows for uninterrupted views to the river. Rare for performing arts buildings, this theatre is highly sustainable. It targets LEED Gold certification through carefully integrated energy and water conservation programs within a high-performance building envelope. The double-glazed curtainwall with bird-friendly frit is north-facing, reducing solar heat gain. Durable building materials prioritize renewable and recycled content. To build the stage in the preferred material, a birch tree wood lot was purchased for sustainable harvest. The stage lighting is one of the first energy-efficient, all-LED systems in use. Landscaping of new civic gardens features native and drought-resistant plant species, and new pathways and bike lanes connect with existing routes. Locals and visitors may pedal to a performance. This theatre marks a milestone for the festival as it enters its 70th year. Earlier venues supported the festival’s emergence. Now, the new Tom Patterson Theatre is poised to play a leading role in the festival’s future.
Hariri Pontarini Architects (HPA) is a leading Toronto-based architectural studio known for crafting projects of enduring value. Founded in 1994 by Siamak Hariri and David Pontarini, the firm’s portfolio covers a diverse range of institutional, cultural, mixed-use, commercial, and residential projects of international acclaim. Distinguished by an unwavering commitment to design excellence and an aspiration to create architecture that can uplift and inspire, HPA’s growing body of work has helped to elevate Canada’s architectural profile on the global stage.
Award-winning projects led by Siamak Hariri include the Bahá’í Temple of South America located in Santiago, Chile; the Toronto office of McKinsey & Company, the youngest building to be recognized with city heritage designation; noted healthcare facilities Casey House and the BARLO MS Centre; and campus buildings that set a new standard in business school design at Western University, York University and Carleton University.